204: The Artist’s Mark

If we envision a continuum with the artist’s physical presence on one end and manufactured objects on the other where does a work of art fall on that spectrum? Researchers at Yale and The University of Chicago recently concluded that works of art are conflated in the observer’s mind with the physical presence of the artist. This phenomenon–known as magical contagion–is one of the reasons people esteem art more than replicas or manufactured objects.


Although there are negative aspects to this phenomenon–celebrity worship for example–the concept gives strong reasons to maximize the mark of the artist’s hand.

As I explored abstraction I have found myself attempting to minimize marks considered accidental. But research–as well as intuition– suggests it is best to surrender absolute control of one’s medium.


After years of experimentation I realized that woodcut is the art of imperfection. If I obsessed over getting every stroke cut with absolute precision the emotional impact of the woodcut vanished. The miscuts and errors added texture and energy. I learned that, paradoxically, a perfect work of art is a weak work of art.

River Rocks, 10″ x 12″, 8 block woodcut

I actively promote imperfection with my abstracts and am beginning to infuse such abandon into my landscapes. I have a high regard for technical competency so it is not an easy transition. I have to remind myself that imperfection makes art perfect by revealing the artist’s hand.


Brad Teare–December 2014

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Updated: 18th November 2019
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